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Zizek with French feminism: enjoyment and the feminine logic of the "not-all".

Slavoj Zizek's dialogue with French feminism is rather limited. Aside from his occasional disparaging comments about Julia Kristeva's anti-revolutionary sentiments, (2) Zizek has for the most part avoided serious discussion with Kristeva, Helene Cixous or Luce Irigaray. (3) Though actively, but not uncritically, working within a Lacanian framework, as Zizek does, these "French feminists" (as they are typically grouped) must have seemed too compromised by their association with Derrida and deconstruction. Rather than engaging with what French feminism's Lacanianism might have to offer the Left, Zizek perceives these thinkers as unhelpfully belaboring Freud/Lacan's phallogocentric predilections, and appealing to a deceptive version of the "eternal feminine."

Zizek's indifference is all the more regrettable since he and the French feminists alike share a deep commitment to sexual difference. Each also seeks to make a place for the question of sexual difference--and more specifically, for the question of (female) jouissance--within a philosophy that, from Descartes's cogito to Fleidegger's Dasein, has remained largely blind to it. Like Lacan, who questioned the primacy of cognition in Western philosophy--philosophy's axiomatic insistence on self-knowledge as an expression of self-mastery--Kristeva professes her own kind of "antiphilosophy," (4) affirming the deep interconnection between thought and desire, if not the identification of thought with desire (jouissance): "The knowing subject is also a desiring subject, and the paths of desire ensnarl the paths of knowledge" (307). In other words, the desiring subject for Kristeva (as well as for Irigaray and Cixous) is decidedly a psychoanalytical one: "Desidero is the Freudian cogito" (Lacan, Ecrits 154). (5) Zizek echoes his French feminist counterparts when he points out philosophy's willful neglect of sexual difference and argues for psychoanalysis's implicit role as a necessary supplement:

[T]he crucial difference between psychoanalysis and philosophy concern[s] the status of sexual difference: for philosophy, the subject is not inherently sexualized, sexualization only occurs at the contingent, empirical level, whereas psychoanalysis raises sexuation into a kind of formal a priori condition for the very emergence of the subject. We should thus defend the claim that what philosophy cannot think is sexual difference in its philosophical (ontological) dimension. (Zizek, Less Than Nothing 747).

What Zizek shares with his feminist counterparts is a certain appeal to, or concern with feminine jouissance (enjoyment), as a site of contestation, as an alternative economy of enjoyment--one that stands in opposition to masculine phallic enjoyment. Yet what each means by sexual difference, and how each construes jouissances oppositional force, is precisely the subject of their disagreements. In this essay, I want to explore what a dialogue between Zizek and French feminist thought might look like. In particular, I will focus on Zizek's and French feminists' divergent accounts of sexual difference, and the implications of these for an understanding of the sexed self and the rhetorical enactment of feminine alterity.

"Woman does not exist": Ontologies of Difference

The primacy of sexual difference has long been a contested issue within feminism and among feminists. Accusations of biologism or essentialism plague contemporary theoretical debates, which are marked, particularly in the Anglo-American context, by a predominant investment in matters of "gender" over those framed around "sex" and sexuality (the shift from Women's Studies to Gender Studies departments in the U.S. points for instance to this trend). The most famous articulation of this key distinction between sex and gender, and one that generated much contemporary debate over sexual difference, is Simone de Beauvoir's assertion in The Second Sex that "one is not born, but rather becomes, woman [on ne nait pas femme: on le devient]" (283). In other words, while an individual maybe born a female (anatomically speaking), she becomes woman; she becomes her gender--a gendered subject--through the process of socialization.

Yet what gets lost in this common gloss of Beauvoir's position is that far from denying the insights of biology, Beauvoir readily accepts biological differences between men and women, underscoring the irreducibility of sexual difference:

First of all, certain differences between man and woman will always exist; her eroticism, and thus her sexual world, possessing a singular form, cannot fail to engender in her a sensuality, a singular sensitivity: her relation to her body, to the male body, and to the child will never be the same as those man has with his body, with the female body, and with the child. (The Second Sex 765)

The being of woman does not lie merely in the facticity of her sexual difference, yet facticity cannot simply be dismissed. In acknowledging the scientific fact of men and women's existence and difference, Beauvoir turns our attention to the question of meaning--to the practice of interpretation, or how we interpret and live those facts. She proceeds by exposing the biased logic at work in any philosophical discourse that implicitly takes maleness as the neutral term, as the norm: "She [woman] is determined and differentiated in relation to man, while he is not in relation to her; she is the inessential in front of the essential. He is the Subject; he is the Absolute. She is the Other" (The Second Sex 6).

Beauvoir will formulate this insight in even more striking terms:

[W]hen an individual or a group of individuals is kept in a situation of inferiority, the fact is that he or they are inferior. But the scope of the verb to be must be understood; bad faith means giving it a substantive value, when in fact it has the sense of the Hegelian dynamic: to be is to have become, to have been made as one manifests oneself. Yes, women in general are today inferior to men; that is, their situation provides them with fewer possibilities: the question is whether this state of affairs must be perpetuated. (The Second Sex 12-13)

This claim--that women are inferior to men--can appear quite shocking, coming from a thinker who wants to dismantle the values of patriarchy, the values of a cultural system that systematically privileges men over women. But Beauvoir's interpretation of women's inferiority cuts much deeper. Beauvoir's interpretation paradoxically warns against the limits of interpretation, of the danger of remaining at the level of ideas when one tries to refute misogyny. The label of inferiority is not merely a subjective judgment on the part of the misogynist that feminists can dismiss simply by claiming it is not true, that women, in reality, are equal to men. By insisting that women are inferior, Beauvoir is also claiming that representation and reality cannot be so easily separated from one another. Feminism cannot limit itself to demystifying ideas, to claiming that women are equal and that people just fail to see that they are. This, for Beauvoir, is to overlook the ways in which language structures one's being and it is also to overlook the primary role that others play in forming one's identity.

Zizek is wholly sympathetic to this line of argumentation. Defending Beauvoir from a recent critic who objected to her similar comments about the "inferiority" of blacks, Zizek reaffirms Beauvoir's insight into the role of difference in structuring being: "[Her detractor's] critical solution, propelled by the care to avoid racist claims on the factual inferiority of blacks, is to relativise their inferiority into a matter of interpretation and judgement by white racists, and distance it from the question of their very being" (Zizek, Violence 72).

Recognizing the alterity of women--recognizing women as other--is arguably a first step toward the development of a more egalitarian politics. This is how Beauvoir herself conceives it. Deeply suspicion about anything that presents itself as "naturally" feminine, Beauvoir defines her feminist sensibility in opposition to a cult of feminine difference: "I am radically feminist, in the sense that I radically discount difference as a given that has any significance in itself" (Francis Jeanson, Simone de Beauvoir ou l'entreprise de vivre 235). Not wanting to fetishize otherness (sexual difference, to be more precise), Beauvoir opts for a universalism that is otherwise than phallocentric.

This gesture--this intellectual next step--is precisely what is called into question by Luce Irigaray. There is no transcendence of sexual difference. "Rather than refusing, as Simone de Beauvoir does, to be the other gender, the other sex, I am asking to be recognized as really another, irreducible to the masculine subject" (Luce Irigaray, Democracy Begins Between Two 125). Whereas Beauvoir hesitated to write a book about women, Irigaray boldly appropriates the process of othering, affirming the primacy of sexual difference: "Sexual difference [is] the most radical difference and the one most necessary to the life and culture of the human species" (Irigaray, Elemental Passions 3). If woman has up till now been conceived only as a negation of man, the goal is to affirm her as a positive being, as a becoming on her own terms. Simply stated, the logic of sexual difference is not A and ~A, but A and B.

Irigaray's valorization of sexual difference--a difference valued on its own terms and not produced through the negation of the masculine--must be situated in its proper psychoanalytic context. Feminist theories of sexual difference find their source in Lacan's formulae of sexuation. In Seminar XX, Encore, Lacan defines sexual difference (sexuation) in terms of a fundamental difference in the structure of enjoyment. "Masculine" and "feminine" do not refer to anatomical differences, but to a subject's relation to the phallus, to how his or her enjoyment is organized. On the male side, we find two formulae: 1) there is at least one x that says "no" to the phallic function, and 2) all x are subject to the phallic function. Together these state the male logic of exception--of law and its necessary transgression. While all men are symbolically castrated (they are all subject to the phallic function, the law, the big Other) due to their entry into the symbolic order, into the realm of the signifier (the substitution of things--including oneself--by words), there is always one "Man" who does not sacrifice his jouissance, one Man who must remain immune to the law of castration, holding on to the promise of a fantasmatic return to the full plenitude of a pre-symbolic jouissance. For Lacan, the mythical primal father of Freud's Totem and Taboo exemplifies such a figure. While the primal father--who enjoyed all women at will, "achieving complete satisfaction" (Zizek, For They Know Not 123)--had to be killed for the symbolic order to emerge, his exceptional subject position persists in the cultural imaginary.

Zizek devalues the biological overtones of sexual difference, underscoring the logic of Lacan's formulae of sexuation, so that an anatomical woman might very well occupy the position of the primal father. Lacan makes this point explicit: the "relation of the subject to the phallus is ... established without regard to the anatomical difference between the sexes" (Ecrits 282). "Woman as exception"--that is, a biological woman with a male structure of enjoyment--is precisely, Zizek proposes, the case of the merciless Lady of courtly love:

As the exemplary case of the exception constitutive of the phallic function, one usually mentions the fantasmatic, obscene figure of the primordial father-jouisseur who was not encumbered by any prohibition and was as such able fully to enjoy all women. Does, however, the figure of the Lady in courtly love not fully fit these determinations of the primordial father? Is she not also a capricious Master who wants it all, i.e., who, herself not bound by any Law, charges her knight-servant with arbitrary and outrageous ordeals?" ("Woman is One of the Names-of-the-Father").

This Lady (in comparison to all other women) operates, or rather is imagined operating, outside social norms, whimsically transgressing society's moral codes.

Renata Salecl describes well the radicality of Lacans approach. As she puts it, Lacan ... moves as far as possible from the notion of sexual difference as the relationship of two opposite poles which complement each other, together forming the whole of "Man." "Masculine" and "feminine" are not the two species of the genus Man but rather the two modes of the subject's failure to achieve the full identity of Man. "Man" and "Woman" together do not form a whole, since each of them is already in itself a failed whole. (The Spoils of Freedom 116).

Zizek's project seeks to harness the radicality of this account of feminine difference, and aims for a transvalution of the notion of incompletion as failed wholeness. It offers a way out of the opposition between essentialism (feminism of sexual difference) and constructionism (feminism a la Butler). Much of Zizek's innovative reading of the formulae of sexuation emerges in his commentary on the female side of Lacan's formulation. Here too we are confronted with two formulae: 1) there is no x that says "no" to the phallic function, and 2) not all x are subject to the phallic function. Unlike the male side, there is no claim of universality rooted in exception here, suggesting that woman (unlike Man) does not constitute a totality. If there is no exception that stands outside the system, then the system as such is never whole or complete. And because there is nothing of woman outside the Law (no constitutive exception), woman is also "not-all" inside of the symbolic order. Or, as Lacan infamously glosses his own formulae, "Woman does not exist [la femme nexiste pas]" (Lacan, Encore 7).

Lacan's general account of sexuation generated a fair amount of hostility from feminists. Irigaray, for example, could not resist ridiculing Lacan's last assertion with the quip, "Fortunately, there are women" (This Sex Which Is Not One 90), though Lacans statement is in the singular: woman (as exception) does not exist. Irigaray does however acknowledge and take up the question of woman's lack. The title of her book Ce sexe qui rien est pas un is a play on a woman's lack (her perception from within the symbolic order that she is not a sovereign, autonomous sex), and on her plurality (she is ontologically more than one). Her multiplicity is linked to her unruly jouissance, to her "disruptive excess" (This Sex Which Is Not One 78). Her enjoyment is a threat to the status quo; her discursive practice is "somewhat mad from the standpoint of reason" (This Sex Which Is Not One 29). Irigaray does not, however, merely want to update the philosophical model of inquiry; she does not want to convert women into the latest subjects of phallocentric discourse (which, from Irigaray's standpoint, would be Beauvoir's position). Her intervention is more decisive, more radical: "The issue is not one of elaborating a new theory of which woman would be the subject or the object, but of jamming the theoretical machinery itself" (This Sex Which Is Not One 78). At one point, Irigaray puts the matter in strikingly Levinasian terms:

This domination of the philosophical logos stems in large part from its power to reduce all others to the economy of the Same. The teleologically constructive project it takes on is always also a project of diversion, deflection, reduction of the other in the Same. And, in its greatest generality perhaps, from its power to eradicate the difference between the sexes in systems that are self-representative of a "masculine subject" (This Sex Which Is Not One 74).

For Irigaray, what makes women women, however, is never reducible to any symbolic order; their specificity as women is ontological, not ontic. There is always a part of women that is recalcitrant to the male gaze, to the colonizing logic of masculinist discourse. There will always be a remainder of "woman" which rebels against masculine formation and understanding: "[W]e are women from the start" (This Sex Which Is Not One 212). Sexual difference is pre-discursive; it precedes the symbolic order and must be defended against the threat of what Kristeva dubs "sexual anesthesia." A "blurring" or effacement of sexual difference would result in "the end of a certain kind of desire and sexual pleasure. For, after all, if you level out difference, given that it's difference that's desirable and provokes sexual pleasure, you could see a kind of sexual anesthesia" (Jardine and Menke, Shifting Scenes 117).

Reading the Other: Hermeneutics and the "Not-All"

For Cixous, the desire for homogeneity--the reign of the Same--privileges a certain mode of inquiry:

As soon as the question "What is it?" is posed, from the moment a question is put, as soon as a reply is sought, we are already caught up in masculine interrogation [interpellation masculine], I say "masculine interrogation": as we say so-and-so was interrogated by the police. And this interrogation precisely involves the work of signification: "What is it? Where is it?" A work of meaning, "This means that," the predicative distribution that always at the same time orders the constitution of meaning. And while meaning is being constituted, it only gets constituted in a movement in which one of the terms of the couple is destroyed in favor of the other. (Helene Cixous, "Castration or Decapitation?" 45)

Epistemological inquiries are from the start ideological gestures (acts of interpellation) that violently arrest the movement of the object, ironing out, as it were, its hermeneutic perplexities. But as an object of the male gaze, Cixous insists, this jouissance of the other/ this other jouissance never fully complies. It remains defiant before the masculinist will to comprehend. A feminist/feminine hermeneutics would, then, be one that blocks the desire for meaning--that is, one that short-circuits philosophy's conceptual machinery--holding out for the possibility of non-meaning. But are these really rebukes of Lacan?

Such feminist readings of female jouissance, as Zizek points out, are by no means incompatible with a certain reading of Lacan:

According to the standard version of the Lacanian theory, the non-all (pas-tout) of woman means that not all of a woman is caught up in the phallic jouissance: She is always split between a part of her which accepts the role of a seductive masquerade aimed at fascinating the man, attracting the male gaze, and another part of her which resists being drawn into the dialectic of (male) desire, a mysterious jouissance beyond Phallus about which nothing can be said ... (Zizek, "Femininity between Goodness and Act" 29)

Yet Zizek finds this reading ultimately inadequate. He warns against translating the alterity of feminine jouissance into "the surplus that eludes the grasp of the phallic function" ("Woman is One of the Names-of-the-Father"). The non-all of woman does not pertain to her outsideness of the symbolic order, nor to a part of her that remains immune to the phallus. Feminine jouissance is not something wholly other--something mysterious that somehow lies outside discursivity or the patriarchal symbolic order. He singles out Kristeva and Irigaray for this temptation: "The problem is that all answers (from the traditional eternally feminine, to Kristeva and Irigaray) can again be discredited as male cliches" ("Woman is One of the Names-of-the-Father"). This move would duplicate the very phallic economy that they seek to escape, since "the very notion of a 'feminine secret,' of some mysterious jouissance which eludes the male gaze, is constitutive of the phallic spectacle of seduction: inherent to phallic economy is the reference to some mysterious X which remains forever out of its reach." In other words, one must disentangle female jouissance from the male fantasy (potentially internalized by other women) about female jouissance. Likewise Irigaray's "two lips" distort the logic of the "non-all" if they are made to stand for an uncolonized part of the female body.

According to Zizek, both feminist readings of the feminine fail to get at the subversive kernel of its "not-all." In order to attend to this kernel, Zizek (via Lacan) returns to the Real to reframe the dual births of the speaking subject (parletre) and that of jouissance. Zizek gives significant weight to Lacan's notion of the lamella/hommelette, a metaphor for the libido introduced in Seminar XI. Leveling a narcissistic blow to philosophy and its humanistic tradition, Lacan asserts that in the beginning we were all hommelettes (a fusion of man and omelet):

Whenever the membranes of the egg in which the foetus emerges on its way to becoming a new-born are broken, imagine for a moment that something flies off, and that one can do it with an egg as easily as with a man, namely the hommelette, or the lamella.

The lamella is something extra-flat, which moves like the amoeba. It is just a little more complicated. But it goes everywhere. And as it is something ... that is related to what the sexed being loses in sexuality, it is, like the amoeba in relation to sexed beings, immortal--because it survives any division, and scissiparous intervention. And it can turn around.

Well! This is not very reassuring. But suppose it comes and envelops your face while you are quietly asleep ...

I can't see how we would not join battle with a being capable of these properties.

But it would not be a very convenient battle. This lamella, this organ, whose characteristic is not to exist, but which is nevertheless an organ ... is the libido.

It is the libido, qua pure life instinct, that is to say, immortal life, irrepressible life, life that has need of no organ, simplified, indestructible life. (Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis 197-98)

This is not only a fantastic tale of human sexuality, akin to Aristophanes' myth from Plato's Symposium. Rather, it takes on an additional mythical force to the extent that it figures or "narrates" life in the pre-symbolic Real. The myth of the lamella evokes the state of an individual prior to the law of castration, prior to intersubjectivity as such. The lamella is the price we all pay for/by entering the symbolic order and becoming speaking subjects: "It is precisely what is subtracted from the living being by virtue of the fact that it is subject to the cycle of sexed reproduction. And it is of this that all the forms of the objet a that can be enumerated are the representatives, the equivalents" (The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis 198). As Sarah Kay puts it, this cut into the Real has significant ramifications for all of us: "With this cut of the signifier into the libido, our whole biological organism undergoes a massive change. What was physical instinct becomes drive, and what once was whole becomes fragmented" (Kay, Zizek 97). In this retroactive account (from within the symbolic order), the lamella stands for what has been "lost" through the process of symbolization. Castration--the figure of loss par excellence (6) --is a cut in the Real, but this is a cut only from the perspective of the Symbolic, since the Real is "absolutely without fissure" (Lacan, The Ego 97). The post-symbolic Real emerges at the limits of the Symbolic, when the Symbolic becomes a question and loses its transparency and grasp on our psyche; as Joan Copjec puts it, "the point where the real makes itself felt in the symbolic" is "the point at which the symbolic visibly fails to disambiguate itself" (Copjec, "The Phenomenal Nonphenomenal" 178). By extension, the Real of sexual difference is what lingers as unassimilable into the symbolic order and what manifests itself within the fissures of our sexualities and gendered identities. As Zizek writes:

[F]or Lacan, sexual difference is not a firm set of "static" symbolic oppositions and inclusions/exclusions (heterosexual normativity which relegates homosexuality and other "perversions" to some secondary role), but the name of a deadlock, of a trauma, of an open question, of something that resists every attempt at its symbolization. Every translation of sexual difference into a set of symbolic opposition(s) is doomed to fail, and it is this very "impossibility" that opens up the terrain of the hegemonic struggle for what "sexual difference" will mean. (Zizek, Contingency, Hegemony, Universality 110-11)

Sexual difference has no positive existence, inherent meaning or value. Its enigmaticity (its traumatic kernel) is a remainder and reminder of what lies beyond the Symbolic's assimilative hermeneutics. Sexual difference, as Andrea Margaret Hurst rightly insists, "both calls for interpretation and resists (eludes, exceeds) all interpretations, so rupturing the order of interpretation that the call for reinterpretation never ceases" (Hurst, Derrida Vis-a-vis Lacan 239). So while Zizek shares Kristeva's concerns about "sexual anesthesia"--or what he describes as an "underlying all-pervasive [sexual] Sameness" ("The Real of Sexual Difference" 324)--he still considers such a type of intervention as compounding the problem, since Kristeva conceives of sexual difference as an identity that must protected, located ambiguously between the Imaginary and the Symbolic, rather than seeing sexual difference as also, and more importantly, Real, as made incomplete by the Real: "The claim that the Real is inherent to the Symbolic is strictly equivalent to the claim that 'there is no big Other': the Lacanian Real is that traumatic 'bone in the throat' that contaminates every ideality of the symbolic, rendering it contingent and inconsistent" ("The Real of Sexual Difference" 323). "Sexual anesthesia" is, then, only a dystopian possibility if symbolic reality were ever totalizable--but the Symbolic is "not-all."

In his writings, Zizek has time and time again returned to this feminine logic, expanding its original parameters. Adopting and adapting it for his purposes, Zizek deploys the logic of "not-all" to rethink not only sexual difference, but difference itself. Consequently, Lacan's statement "there is no sexual relationship" relates to the larger problematic of the other, or more precisely, the "real" of the other--the neighbor. Lacans formulae of sexuation provide Zizek a way to think more critically about the politics of sovereignty. The ideology of sovereignty matches perfectly with the male side of Lacan's formulation: the sovereign, with its power to make the law, stands outside the law--it is the exception that proves the rule, the exception that constitutes the universal. Against the masculine structure of the universal--which, as we have seen produces images of the primordial father and the merciless Lady of courtly love--the feminine structure of not-all provides Zizek with a different way of relating to the other.

As with Irigaray, Zizek's interlocutor here is Levinas, whom he blames for depoliticizing the neighbor in favor of a toothless ethics. If for Irigaray Levinas's shortcomings reside in his failure to foreground sexual difference as such (the sexual other is at best subsumed under the category of the wholly other; at worst, femininity is somewhat ethically deficient), for Zizek the shortcomings lie in his inability to fully conceptualize the traumatic effects of other. Religion's prophylactic ways ultimately neutralize the disrupting quality of the other, gentrifying, as it were, one's exposure to radical alterity. To be sure, Zizek's interpretation of Levinas is less than generous, since Levinas himself formulates the ethical encounter in the language of traumatism. (7) Still, what Zizek alerts us to is a problematic but not uncommon use of Levinas, which domesticates the other while pretending to uphold its ethical demands with its sentimentalist rhetoric of "infinite responsibility." Moreover, Zizek finds deeply suspicious the claim of "ethics as first philosophy," which functions only to occlude the primacy of politics. Championing the face of the other as an ethical matter works to distract us from the historical and contingent power relations that invariably mediate any such experience. This is in part why Zizek finds Primo Levi's account (via Agamben) of an historical other--the Muselmann--more compelling and productive. Unlike Levinas, Levi does not fetishize the face; on the contrary, he writes about the other's "faceless face." Countering the lure of the face, Levi, according to Zizek, stages its obliteration, revealing, in turn, the "real" other, a horrifying (and horrified) other systematically stripped of all his symbolic characteristics: "When confronted with a Muselmann, one cannot discern in his face the trace of the abyss of the Other in his/her vulnerability, addressing us with the infinite call of responsibility. What one gets instead is a kind of blind wall, a lack of depth" (Zizek, "Neighbors and Other Monsters" 161). The biblical injunction to "Love Thy Neighbor" must be (re)read with this view of the other in mind.

Zizek deploys the female logic of "not-all" for this ethico-political hermeneutic task. (8) Setting himself apart from the Levinasian model, Zizek argues that it is not enough to say that I can never account for the other as other, that phenomenologically the other is always in excess of my idea of him/her. The "Real" of the other is impossible but it is an impossibility that paradoxically needs to be sustained:

The Real is impossible but it is not simply impossible in the sense of a failed encounter. It is also impossible in the sense that it is a traumatic encounter that does happen but which we are unable to confront. And one of the strategies used to avoid confronting it is precisely that of positing it as this indefinite ideal which is eternally postponed. One aspect of the real is that it's impossible, but the other aspect is that it happens but is impossible to sustain, impossible to integrate. And this second aspect, I think, is more and more crucial. (Conversations with Zizek 71)

The Zizekian neighbor does not conform to the male logic of universality and exception (the sameness of others [the realm of politics] and the radical alterity of the other [the realm of ethics]). Rather, we might say that the other is "not-all"; he or she lacks completion. The ethico-political task is precisely to decomplete (representations of) the other--whence the labor of love.

For this reason love as such is impossible: "There is no sexual relationship." But what form this impossibility takes requires further elaboration. "True love" needs to be set apart from love as abstraction or ideology, love as "a lure, a mirage, whose function is to obfuscate the irreducible constitutive out-of-joint' of the relationship between the sexes" (Salecl and Zizek, Gaze and Voice as Love Objects 2). Impossible love/love of the impossible sends us back to the structures of enjoyment laid out in the formulae of sexuation. In "The Real of Sexual Difference," Zizek ties "true love" to Saint Paul and his notion of agape, characterized, as it were, by its feminine logic of the not-all. "Even when it is all' (complete, with no exception), the field of knowledge remains in a way not-all" (308). Love is not the exception but "a 'nothing' that renders incomplete even the complete series or field of knowledge" (308). Love entails nothing short of a transvaluation of incompleteness: "Only a lacking, vulnerable being is capable of love: the ultimate mystery of love is therefore that incompleteness is in a way higher than completion" (Zizek, "The Real of Sexual Difference" 308).

This time "mystery" is not some dubious, phantasmatic projection, a fantasy of the other that remains to be traversed; rather it denotes a precarious subject, someone akin to Irigaray's subject of wonder. As with love, wonder short-circuits the desirability of mastery; it renders what is initially all-too-familiar lacking, something surprising: "In order for it to affect us, it is necessary and sufficient for it to surprise, to be new, not yet assimilated or disassimilated as known" (Irigaray, An Ethics of Sexual Difference 74-75). Irigaray turns to Descartes's The Passions of the Soul for her inspiration for wonder, yet her account recalls more strongly Montaigne's Essays. (9) In his essay "Of Cripples," Montaigne discovers himself as an object of wonder:

I have seen no more evident monstrosity and miracle in the world than myself. We become habituated to anything strange by use and time; but the more I frequent myself and know myself, the more my deformity astonishes me, and the less I understand myself. (Montaigne, The Essays 787)

Far from resulting in a privileged access to one's being, or in the affirmation of autonomy, essayistic self-study does not yield self-mastery nor self-knowledge. Rather the essayist's errant self-writing--what Cixous might describe as "ecriture feminine10"-- defamiliarizes and astonishes its faithful practitioner. It discloses reason in its utter weakness or lameness, and presents astonishment as the appropriate response to ontological unruliness and semiotic monstrosity.

Ravishing Otherwise than Phallic

The feminine logic of the "not-all" delights in the "structural inconsistency of the symbolic" (Zizek, Contingency, Hegemony, Universality 255), in the negativity at the heart of being (or rather becoming); it governs wonder like love, keeping the desiring/knowing subject unavoidably split, incomplete, or even monstrous. This feminine logic troubles the colonization of wonder and sexual difference, opening up a hermeneutic space to hear the other, to enjoy the other (an enjoyment of the other that is otherwise than phallic). Wondering at its own unruliness and foreignness to self, this feminine subject does not assert the transparency and homogeneity of the other. Again, this feminine subject need not be anatomically woman; rather, what matters is how this subject's particular enjoyment is structured. Montaigne's "ecriture feminine" attests, for example, to a hermeneutic jouissance that mixes joy and bewilderment. This astonishment is unintelligible from the perspective of the male side of the formulae of sexuation. The essayist declines any transcendental pull to go outside himself (The Essays 857), joyfully affirming his temporality, or as he puts it, his "temporal greatness" (700). Indeed, the essay form thrives in the absence of permanence. Not conducive to conceptuality--to the formation of concepts for the purpose of hermeneutic mastery--the essay produces semiotic monsters, engendering unruly images in the perplexed mind of its author, making it (the essay) and him (Montaigne) unlikely models of and for perfection (in the double sense of full completion and idealization). There is no exception to the law of the signifier. As Verena Conley puts it in relation to Cixous, "everything is language" (57). But, we might add, language--or grammar--is "not-all." This would be adding a 2izekian twist to l'ecriturefeminine (and it's "a-grammaticality"), one that re-engages this rich feminist concept within its Lacanian context. To explore the implications of this twist further, I turn to a text whose writing of feminine ravishment has generated endless debates between feminists and psychoanalysts: Marguerite Duras's 1964 novel Vie Ravishing of Lol Stein. While Zizek himself, to my knowledge, has never commented on this novel, Lacan devotes a full article to it, titled "Homage to Marguerite Duras, on Le ravissement de Lol V. Stein," a piece that, in turn, prompted numerous responses on the part of feminist critics, particularly feminists of difference. (11)

The story of Lol's ravishment revolves around what might be described as a "primal scene": the event of Lol's abandonment by her fiance, Michael Richardson, who leaves her for another woman at a ball at T. Beach, an event that seemingly plunges Lol first into madness, and then, years later, into a voyeuristic love affair with her best friend Tatiana's lover--the narrator of the novel, Jacques Hold. The novel is not just the story of Lol's ravishment, however, but also, and perhaps foremost, the story of her ravishing, her captivation of Jacques Hold, whose self-conscious narration highlights its own faltering but persistent attempts to voice or appropriate Lol's experience. In critically staging the intersection of pleasure, violence, and interpretation through the voice of a male narrator, Duras's work resonated strongly with contemporary feminist discourses. (12) As Jean-Michel Rabate notes, "Without calling upon the Zeitgeist or a historical turn in French culture just before the explosion of May 1968, one can speak of a surprisingly auspicious convergence of themes. Duras's new novel was soon heralded as the best example of what Helene Cixous and other critics would be calling ecriture feminine'" (117). As it foregrounds the imbrication of ravishment and ravishing--and the at once traumatic and blissful character of ravissement's eventfulness--the novel questions the role of sexual difference in structuring enjoyment. The subject of ravishment is itself open to dispute: Is it the character of Lol Stein who desires to perpetually relive the night of her abandonment or/as ravishment at the ball of T. Beach? Or is it Jacques Hold, the narrator/lover of Lol, who obsessively desires to know his beloved object? I propose to tackle these questions obliquely by reading the text in light of Lacan's formulae of sexuation, focusing on the various types or interpretations of female jouissance (as glossed by Zizek) that the novel at once solicits and blocks.

For Jacques Hold, Lol's abandonment by her fiance marks simultaneously the beginning of Lol's madness and his story of Lol:
   As for the nineteen years preceding that night, I do not want to
   know any more about them than what I tell, or very little more,
   setting forth only the straight, unadulterated chronological facts,
   even if these years conceal some magic moment to which I am
   indebted for having enabled me to meet Lol Stein. I don't want to
   because the presence of her adolescence in this story might somehow
   tend to detract, in the eyes of the reader, from the overwhelming
   actuality of this woman in my life. (4)


The exclusion of Lol's adolescence from the realm of investigation might seem puzzling for someone who seeks to truly understand the other. This repression of a significant part of Lol's facticity is all the more disturbing given the initial opposition of Lois friend and Jacques's lover, Tatiana, to his reading of Lol: "Tatiana does not believe that this fabled Town Beach ball was so overwhelmingly responsible for Lol Stein's illness. No, Tatiana Karl traces the origins of that illness back further, further even than the beginning of their friendship" (2, emphasis added). Unlike Jacques, and despite the importance of the ball scene at T. Beach, she does not believe that Lol had ever had a substantial and integral self that was subsequently traumatized by her ravishment. Lol's identity was always characterized by its fluidity and mobility. From Tatiana's perspective, then, Lol's absence preceded her trauma:
   Lol was funny, an inveterate wit, and very bright, even though part
   of her seemed always to be evading you, and the present moment.
   Going where? Into some adolescent dream world? No, Tatiana answers,
   no, it seemed as though she were going nowhere, yes, that's it,
   nowhere. Was it her heart that wasn't there? Tatiana apparently
   inclines toward the opinion that it was perhaps, indeed, Lol
   Stein's heart which wasn't--as she says--there; it would doubtless
   come, but she, Tatiana, had never seen any sign of it. (3)


Tatiana had always perceived Lol as an unconventional subject, as always being not there. Lol's "not thereness" evokes Irigaray's sex which is not one insofar as it recalls the meaning of sex as feminine lack. Unlike Dasein (literally, being-there--Da-seiri), Lol emerges as ontologically and ontically lacking, as an incomplete Dasein, a subject without a symbolic identity. This lack of "thereness," attested to by Tatiana, would seem to make Lol a candidate for an embodiment of the "eternal feminine." Yet Tatiana's testimony may not be so straightforward. Although Tatiana suggests what seems to be a causal explanation of Lol's present condition, she is unable to locate the moment of Lol's breakdown. In contrast to Jacques's clear and distinct location of Lol's illness in her ravishing at the ball, the imprecision of Tatiana's analysis may well strike the reader as being less an explanation of the illness's cause than an affirmation of the unknowability of Lol's identity.

Jacques, however, does not allow Tatiana to expand on her alternative reading and is quick to discredit any authority she may have had in virtue of both her friendship for/ with Lol and her proximity to the so-called "originary" event:
   I no longer believe a word Tatiana says. I'm convinced of
   absolutely nothing. Here then, in full, and all mixed together,
   both this false impression which Tatiana Karl tells about and what
   I have been able to imagine about that night at the Town Beach
   casino. Following which I shall relate my own story of Lol Stein.
   (4)


Tatiana will thus only supply Jacques Hold with the raw matter that the latter's imagination will fashion into his story of Lol Stein.

Jacques's abrupt decision to silence Tatiana is so drastic and forceful that it should raise concerns about a propensity to subdue or instrumentalize the feminine other for his own narcissistic ends. Yet, at the same time, Jacques makes clear that he is not telling the story of Lol (as if such a story could be told, even by Tatiana) but his story of Lol; remaining faithful to "the overwhelming actuality of this woman in [his] life" seems to necessitate this interpretive decision to confine the parameters of his inquiry. The reader quickly discovers that Jacques means what he says; two pages later, when inquiring about the unfolding of the traumatic event, more specifically, about Anne-Marie Stretter, the femme fatale, he asks: "Had she looked at Michael Richardson as she passed by? And this non-look of hers swept over him as it took in the ballroom?" (6) Uncertainty about what took place in this primal scene of seduction translates into doubts about the origins of his story: "It was impossible to tell, it is therefore impossible to know when my story of Lol Stein begins" (6).

Jacques's assertion that he wants to tell the story of Lol's transformative impact on his life includes a seemingly unexpected but innocuous reference to the reader--"the presence of her adolescence in this story might somehow tend to detract, in the eyes of the reader, from the overwhelming actuality of this woman in my life" (4)--the only reference of its kind in the novel. More than a literary convention through which the narrator establishes some intimacy with his reader, the reference might more fruitfully be seen as an intersubjective gesture, foregrounding Jacques's exposure to the reader, reflecting a deeply self-conscious narrator, that is, a narrator conscious that he is writing about Lol for a third party

Jacques speculates about why Lol "plays dead," obliging him to invent the links of the chain in her story. (13) More specifically, he traces her silence after the ball scene to the inability of language to represent or translate linguistically her desire for the endless night, for what could have permitted Lol to lose her self absolutely by eternally fusing with the couple (in a sort of act of self-dissolution). He imagines Lol dreaming of an absolute word that could capture or symbolize the essence of her traumatic abandonment:
   But what she does believe is that she must enter it, that that was
   what she had to do, that it would always have meant, for her mind
   as well as her body, both their greatest pain and their greatest
   joy, so commingled as to be undefinable, a single entity but
   unnamable for lack of a word. I like to believe--since I love
   her--that if Lol is silent in her daily life it is because, for a
   split second, she believed that this word might exist. Since it
   does not, she remains silent. It would have been an absence-word, a
   hole-word, whose center would have been hollowed out into a hole,
   the kind of hole in which all other words would have been buried.
   (38)


All existing words fail to symbolize Lol's singular jouissance (this mixture of pain and joy). Silence is her only option. But what exactly accounts for the singularity of her experience, which eludes symbolization? It is tempting to explain her silence by recourse to the second interpretation of the feminine logic of "not-all": not all of Lol falls under the law of the signifier. While part of her is clearly interpellated into heteronormitivity (she is married with children), something in her still exceeds the phallic function. Lol is "not wholly hemmed in"; she "is not altogether subject to the symbolic order" (Fink, The Lacanian Subject 107). On this account, Lois femininity is resolutely self-enclosed and is removed from language tout court. Moreover, Lol's femininity (her "truer" self, as it were) risks becoming indistinguishable from an "ineffable feminine secret" (Salecl, "Introduction" 8), with the unforeseen consequence of isolating Lol, removing her from language and mediation as such, that is, from the novel's circuit of desire.

Without any recourse to the symbolic order, Lol is ostensibly condemned to "act out" or repeat this untotalized scene in her mind; indeed, we are told that the scene of her ravishment will unfold forever "in the eternity of the ball in the cinema of Lol Stein" (39). "All that she succeeds in 'seeing' ... is the vision of a short scene in which Michael Richardson would have been undressing the other woman" (van Noort, "The Dance of the Signifier" 191). Jacques sets out to satisfy Lol's fantasy, to help her "complete" the traumatic scene of abandonment. At the same time, this fantasy (is it Lol's or Jacques's?) clearly shapes Jacques's own desires, and supports his reality. For him, at the very least, Lol's voyeurism plays a central part in this fantasy, one that draws something of a perverse enjoyment from seeing her new lover with another woman. Yet, as Lacan points out, Lol's relation to such fantasy is complex: "Above all, do not be deceived about the locus of the gaze here. It is not Lol who looks, if only because she sees nothing. She is not the voyeur. She is realized only in what happens" (Lacan, "Hommage to Marguerite Duras" 19). We might say that Lol is less a constituting subject (a voyeur) than a constituted subject ("realized" through the dynamics of the gaze). For Lacan, it is less a question of Lol's looking (at Jacques and Tatiana) than of being looked at. The logic of the gaze, as it is thematized throughout the novel (19), foregrounds a profound dissymmetry in the field of vision: "You never look at me from the place at which I see you" says Lacan in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (103). The split between Lol's eye and her gaze makes visible that more is going on in this "voyeuristic" scene than a pathological reenactment of her trauma. The locus of the gaze does not originate in Lol's subjectivity. Lol figures the Lacanian Borromean knot: the interdependence of the three orders of the Real, the Imaginary, and the Symbolic. She is constituted by the big Other, while paradoxically also disclosing that there is no big Other, or that the symbolic order is "not-all." Her words transform the voyeuristic frame, ravishing its engineer ("[Jacques] does not ... simply display the machinery, but is in fact one of its mainsprings" ["Homage to Marguerite Duras" 17]) by infecting his image of lover:

Only when Lol, with the appropriate words, elevates the gaze to the status of a pure object for the still innocent Jacques Hold is its place revealed.

'Naked, naked beneath her black hair,' these words from the lips of Lol mark the passage of Tatianas beauty into a function of the intolerable stain which pertains to the object. ("Homage to Marguerite Duras" 17])

Lol's elevation of "the gaze to the status of pure object" recalls Lacans language from The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, where he defines the work of sublimation as "raising] an object ... to the dignity of the Thing" (112). Unlike Freud's account of sublimation, Lacan's does not involve the subject's channeling of the libido toward non-sexual activities, but rather repositioning an object vis-a-vis the structure of fantasy in a way that provokes greater intimacy, or rather "extimacy" (a perpetually interrupted proximity-- "something strange to me, although it is at the heart of me" [The Ethics of Psychoanalysis 71]), with the Real. Sublimation involves, then, making something ordinary into the sublime. This sublime flirts with the Real, hinting at the emptiness at the heart of symbolization, intimating "the beyond-of-the-signified" (The Ethics of Psychoanalysis 54). Tatiana's imaginary beauty now disclosed as a stain disrupts Jacques's scopic drive, shattering his masterful field of vision, revealing it to be incomplete--"not-all"--that is, vulnerable to interruptions of the Real. (14) Lol's sentence ("naked beneath her black hair" [105]) ravishes Jacques. He repeats it in vain: "It's true that Tatiana was as Lol has just described her, naked beneath her dark hair.... The intensity of the sentence suddenly increases, the air around it has been rent, the sentence explodes, it blows the meaning apart" (106). Overwhelming Jacques's will to narrate, the sheer excess of meaning generated by Lol's sentence dislodges his point de capiton (quilting point), signifier and signified are no longer knotted together (The Psychoses 268). Her words de-suture Tatiana's signified, moving it out of place, obliterating the very distinction between meaning and non-meaning: "I fail to understand it. I no longer even understand that it means nothing" (106). Indeed, the "deafening roar" (106) of Lol's sentence dequilts Jacques's relationship to his material reality both in his perception and in his writing of Tatiana's body. Her nudity now eludes the containment of Jacques's I/eye: "Tatiana emerges from herself, spills through the open windows out over the town, the roads, mire, liquid, tide of nudity" (106).

After Lol--after Jacques's exposure to Lol--Tatiana is no longer simply there for Jacques to be seen and loved on his own fantasmatic terms: "This function [of the intolerable stain] is no longer compatible with the narcissistic image in which the lovers try to contain their love, and Jacques Hold immediately feels the effects of this" ("Homage to Marguerite Duras" 19). Lacan reads Jacques's moment of dispossession as epiphanic: "From that moment on, in their dedication to realizing Lol's phantasm, they will be less and less themselves" ("Homage to Marguerite Duras" 19). The "epiphany" in fact might be traced to an earlier passage, to Jacques's Montaigne-like statement: "to know [savoir] nothing about Lol Stein was already to know [connaitre] her. One could, it seemed to me, know [savoir] even less about her, less and less about Lol Stein" (72). The Real of Lol is unontologizable ("savoir" connotes intellectual or conceptual comprehension while "connaitre" suggests a more familiar and intersubjective--and thus more precarious--mode of knowing). It breaches Jacques's mode of defense (his fundamental fantasy as lover/knower of Lol, which covers over his own castration or lack), undercutting his status as a subject supposed to know.

So what is at stake here is Jacques's exposure to Lol's feminine economy of jouissance (and his correlative "out-of-jointness"), and the actual meaning that this form of jouissance takes in the novel. Is Jacques, as Susan Rubin Suleiman argues, "feminized" by Lol, made more vulnerable, less sovereign? Perhaps. But to see Jacques as wholly vulnerable, as completely transformed by his relation to Lol--as someone who has traversed his fantasy, which entails a state of "subjective destitution" [Zizek, Looking Awry 140])--would be to grossly overstate the situation. If Suleiman, for example, likens Jacques's "hesitant" mode of narration to Duras's own elliptical style or practice of ecriture feminine, pointing to an ambivalent and entangled knower, other critics have sought to expose Jacques's sinister motives, calling into question the effect of his self-contesting assertions about his writing of Lol ("what I have been able to imagine" [4]; "Here is my opinion" [35]; "I see this" [45]). Rather than limiting or undermining his narratorial authority, Jacques's rhetorical maneuverings "increase our confidence in the narrator's reliability" (Evans, Masks of Tradition 131); "when Jacques Hold the analyst ... systematically engages in a reification of his own ignorance, he is striving to secure his own ... authority" (McPherson, Incriminations 71). Jacques's uncertainty, then, only masquerades as an absence of mastery. His postmodern skepticism, as Zizek might put it, is a fake. Jacques's phallic jouissance persists, adjusted, or calibrated, if you will, for a new postmodern style or sensibility.

Jacques's desire to know Lol--"I had to know her, because such was her desire (75)--is never far from his desire to control her. Jacques reiterates his irresistible thirst for Lol's speech/story ("Like one parched, I desperately want to drink of the hazy, insipid milk of the word which emerges from the lips of Lol Stein" [97, translation modified]), and quickly follows this statement with a paradoxical yearning to be both possessed by Lol ("... let her consume and crush me with the rest, I shall bend to her will ..."[97]) and to possess her: "My hands are becoming the trap wherewith to ensnare her, immobilize her, keep her from constantly moving to and fro from one end of time to the other" (97). Jacques's bizarre mixture of phantasmatic passivity with physical/hermeneutic violence (containing Lol physically and interpretively) makes evident that the ethical encounter does not unfold in any linear fashion: first, there is Jacques's desire for comprehension, then resistance resulting from his "ethical" recognition of Lol's otherness. It is precisely this lack of progression that Duras's novel displays time and time again. Yet narration and an ethics of the real are not mutually exclusive. Rather, Duras's novel persistently resists the "pathos of understanding," as Lacan puts it ("Homage to Marguerite Duras" 20), fostering interpretive irresolution through its constant framing and reframing of the ethical encounter. Even the most idyllic image of ethical coexistence, such as Jacques's affectionate claim of being utterly riveted to Lol ("here we are, bound together inextricably" [103]), is not immune to ironic recontextualization, to its reinscription within the many twists and turns of the narrative. In an exchange with Lol toward the end of the novel, for instance, Jacques (as well as the reader) is reminded of Lol's recalcitrant otherness:

"I don't love you and yet I do. You know what I mean."

I ask:

"Why don't you kill yourself? Why haven't you already killed yourself?"

"No, you're wrong, that's not it at all." (159)

Similarly, earlier in the narrative, to Jacques's question, "But what is it you want?" (102), Lol answers unexpectedly, "I want" (102), registering her non-compliance with his "masculine interpellation," to recall Cixous's formulation.

Such statements unravel Jacques's logic, deflating his analytical astuteness. Here again we must resist a reading that privileges--or rather fetishizes--sexual difference, that would oppose Lol's subversive agrammaticality to Jacques's familiar grammar, and interpret Lol's unruliness as that which embodies the feminine logic of the "not-all." Duras has constructed a novel that alerts us to gender mediation, that exposes male fantasy about feminine jouissance, but also a novel that reveals that the Symbolic is fraught, "not-all." At the most basic level, The Ravishing of Lol Stein confirms Lacan's claim that "there is no sexual relationship." There is no symmetry between Jacques and Lol, no harmonious resolution to their amorous relation. Waiting for Tatiana in L'Hotel des Bois, Jacques perceives Lol in the rye field, and comments: "Lol had arrived there ahead of us [Jacques and Tatiana]. She was asleep in the field of rye, worn out, worn out by our trip" (181). Lacking unequivocal closure, the narrative could go on indefinitely; its futurity undetermined. What kind of love affair is this? It is one that foregrounds the Real of sexual difference. As a deadlock in the Real, sexual difference is an interpretive impasse that necessitates its own hermeneutics of the Real. Jacques and Lol are not simply different types of beings (Jacques is from Mars, Lol is from Venus). "There is no sexual relationship" gives a new twist to the Cartesian problem of other minds. The sexual other's inaccessibility produces frustration and anxiety about one's self. As we saw with Zizek's discussion of the neighbor, the otherness of the other is traumatizing, but so is the otherness of the self (e.g., Montaigne's semiotic monstrosity). Loving Lol is hard to disentangle from knowing Lol. In his struggles with understanding Lol, Jacques vacillates between the male logic of jouissance and its feminine counterpart, crippling, in turn, any univocal interpretation, any final judgment (to be for or against Jacques). Jacques yearns for a recognition of his singularity, a singularity that is discernible. To the question of why Lol desires him, he receives the news that "her choice implies no preference" (103). The impersonality of Lol's desire--the desubjectivization of her love-object--clashes with Jacques's agonizing obsession and impossible rivalry with Michael Richardson: that original Man--"the eternal Michael Richardson" (103)--who captured Lol's love and who enjoyed all of Lol prior to her illness or madness. Michael Richardson embodies for Jacques Hold the fantasmatic possibility of wholeness, of boundless jouissance, and of a love for Lol without fissures. He is haunted by the other man's idealized image. Jacques wants to be the exception to the other men (including her husband) who have failed to "save" Lol and to help her work through "her" phantasms. Countering this male logic of exceptionality are moments, as we have seen, framed by a discernable feminine logic of "not all." Jacques's observation that "to know nothing about Lol Stein was already to know her" captures best this feminine logic. Here Jacques's knowledge of Lol is rendered incomplete by his desire for Lol, suggesting that "only a lacking, vulnerable being is capable of love" (Zizek, "The Real of Sexual Difference" 308). This reading gains more plausibility when paired with Jacques's observation about Lol: "Mais qu'est-ce a dire qu'une souffrance sans sujet?"--meaning first "But what is one to make of suffering which has no apparent cause?" (13), but also, "But what is one to make of a suffering without a subject?" This observation appears early in the novel, when Jacques's identity as narrator is yet to be revealed. But retroactively the reader is drawn back to this curious idea of a suffering without a subject. This sets up a relation to the other that is paradoxical from its inception. Again retroactively, when Jacques says that to know nothing about Lol was already to know her, he can now be seen as responding to this subjectless Lol in a way that sustains rather than covers up her lack, thus declining the gentrification of his Real beloved. From this vantage point, the phrase "There is no sexual relationship" takes on yet another meaning. Love's impossibility is not a pessimistic assessment of human relations but the condition for love as such, for a love that is otherwise than phallic. As Salecl and Zizek put it, "beyond its fascination with the image of its object, true love aims at the kernel of the real, at what is in the object more than the object itself" (Gaze and Voice as Love Objects 3). As Jacques comes to realize, loving/knowing what is more Lol than Lol herself turns out be an endlessly maddening task. This is the task the reader is invited to take up, and like love, interpretation--the jouissance of reading--is "not-all."

Notes

(1.) Support from the Louis B. Perry Research Award made this research possible. I also would like to thank Andrew Durand for his help on this project.

(2.) Zizek sees Kristeva as one the chief proponents of revolt in the debate pitting revolution against revolt. In his view, her preference for revolt (associated with subversion) over revolution amounts to an unjustified capitulation: "Revolts are good, they bring creative energy, they make things dynamic; revolution is bad, since it introduces a new order. That is unbelievable: in a certain way, an absolute liberal vulgarity" (Zizek, Philosophy in the Present, ed. Alberto Toscano [Cambridge: Polity, 2009], 103-04).

(3.) The only feminist that Zizek has really engaged with is Judith Butler. Zizek devotes a third of The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Center of Political Ontology (New York: Verso, 1999) to Butler's work.

(4.) See Jacques Lacan, "Peut-etre a Vincennes ..." Autres ecrits, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller (Paris: Seuil, 2001) 314-35.

(5.) In this same essay, Kristeva also asserts her hermeneutic preference for psychoanalysis over deconstruction. Unlike the latter, whose skeptical propensities undermine the very labor of interpretation by doing away with the subject/object distinction, the former occupies a more measured critical ethos: "The Freudian position on interpretation has the immense advantage of being midway between a classic interpretive attitude--that of providing meaning through the connection of two terms from a stable place and theory--and the questioning of the subjective and theoretical stability of the interpretant which, in the act of interpretation itself, establishes the theory and the interpreter himself as interpretable objects" ("Psychoanalysis and the Polis," Critical Inquiry 9 [1982]: 81).

(6.) For a rich look at alternatives metaphors for loss, see Tim Dean, Beyond Sexuality. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).

(7.) "Persecution reduces the ego to the self, to the absolute accusative whereby the Ego is accused of a fault which it neither willed nor committed, and which disturbs its freedom. Persecution is a traumatism, violence par excellence, without warning, without a priori, without the possibility of apology, without logos" (Levinas, "Substitution," Basic Philosophical Writings, trans. Adriaan T. Peperzak and Simon Critchley and eds. Adriaan T. Peperzak, Simon Critchley, and Robert Bernasconi [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996], 183n.44.j.

(8.) "Materialism means that the reality I see is never 'whole'--not because a large part of it eludes me, but because it contains a stain, a blind spot, which indicates my inclusion in it" (7he Parallax View [Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2006], 17).

(9.) As if directly responding to the Real excesses of the Montaignian self, to the self's internal otherness, Descartes moves to pathologize the experience of "astonishment": "Astonishment is an excess of wonder which can never be anything but bad," he writes in The Passions of the Soul (58).

(10.) For Cixous's discussion of "ecriture feminine? see her feminist manifesto, "The Laughter of the Medusa," Signs 1, 4 (1976): 875-93.

(11.) For many (particularly Anglophone) critics, Lacan's reading simply domesticated Duras's female/feminist poetics (Duras's publication of The Ravishing of Lol Stein coincided with the rise of the feminists of difference, helping her promotion as feminist writer), reducing the novel's alterity to lessons in Lacanian psychoanalysis. Nothing highlights the identification of Duras's ostensibly feminist novel and Lacans psychoanalysis more forcefully than Lacan's own words from his homage: "Marguerite Duras knows, without me, what I teach" ("Homage to Marguerite Duras, on Le ravissement de Lol V. Stein? in Critical Essays on Marguerite Duras, ed. Bettina L. Knapp [New York: G.K. Hall & Co., 1998], 18).

(12.) Duras is ostensibly rewriting the male fantasy narrative about female madness-- the paradigmatic example being the surrealist Andre Breton's 1929 autobiographic novel, Nadja.

(13.) The novel suggests that Jacques is a psychiatrist: "I'm thirty-six years old, a member of the medical profession. I've been living in South Tahla only for a year. I'm in Peter Beugner's section at the State Hospital" (Duras, The Ravishing of Lol Stein, trans. Richard Seaver [New York: Pantheon, 1986], 66).

(14.) "Since sexuality is the domain in which we get closest to the intimacy of another human being, totally exposing ourselves to him or her, sexual enjoyment is real for Lacan: something traumatic in its breathtaking intensity, yet impossible in the sense that we cannot ever make sense of it. This is why a sexual relation, in order to function, has to be screened through some fantasy" (Zizek, How To Read Lacan [New York: Norton, 2006], 49).

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Zahi Zalloua

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Title Annotation:Slavoj Zizek
Author:Zalloua, Zahi
Publication:Intertexts
Article Type:Essay
Date:Sep 22, 2014
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